Greek gastronomy evolved from the blend of several regional cuisines: it has its own ancient roots from the Mediterranean, with pretty much the same techniques and ingredients as Italy. Also, Middle Eastern and Balkanic influences are present in today’s Greek cuisine.
Among the most predominant ingredients in this cooking style since ancient times, olive oil is the most used, due to its abundance in every Mediterranean country and base ingredients, such as cereals and fresh and dried fruits.
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An ancient food typical of Greek cuisine
In ancient Greece, cereals were the basis of food, especially wheat and barley. By removing its husk, wheat was usually transformed in two ways: reduced to semolina, which would be boiled; or ground and converted into flour and then kneaded, which would be used to make bread and simple cakes.
Nowadays, a staple food widely used in Greece and other Mediterranean countries is made by reducing wheat to semolina. It is called orzo.
Alright, but what is orzo actually? Orzo is a rice-shaped Italian type of pasta made from durum wheat semolina. This food, although it’s mainly used as an ingredient for soups, perfectly accompanies stews for meat, poultry or fish and it’s a widely used component in Mediterranean salads.
Orzo in Greek cuisine
Orzo is used as a main ingredient in many Greek dishes. These two, for example:
- Giouvetsi: it is a meal made with beef or lamb meat accompanied with pasta, tomato sauce seasoned with allspice, and in some cases with cinnamon, and bay leaves. Also, the meat can be seasoned with garlic, onion, and stuffed in wine. It is served in a container made of clay called Güveç and the pasta includes gratin cheese on top. It is very popular on the Greek islands and chef Paula Wolfert used to call it “one of the most famous Greek lamb dishes”.
- Greek salad with orzo: this entry is not the authentically Greek salad, but some of its ingredients are used to make this meal and has a similar flavor. It contains yellow bell pepper, orange bell pepper, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, olive oil and orzo. It is made with a dressing containing lemon juice, Dijon mustard, cumin and pepper. By mixing the ingredients you will find an unparalleled taste. This pasta salad is excellent for a healthy dinner and should be tasted cold.
If you have read until this stage, you already have an idea of what to prepare today: a delicious Greek baked orzo accompanied with chicken and vegetables.
Greek baked orzo
- 4 tbsp. of olive oil.
- 1 diced onion.
- 2 minced garlic cloves.
- 2 diced red bell pepper.
- 4 cups of chopped kale.
- 4 tsp. of dried oregano.
- 2 pinches of red pepper flakes.
- 2 tsp. of salt.
- 3 tbsp. of tomato paste.
- 2 cups of uncooked orzo.
- 2 14-ounce can of diced fire roasted tomatoes.
- 2-4 cups of cooked chicken or chickpeas.
- 5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth.
- ½ cup of freshly chopped parsley.
- 2-4 tbsp. of butter.
- 1 cup of Feta cheese.
- 1 tsp of dill.
- Lemon squeezies (optional).
- Preheat the oven to 420°F
- In a large baking pan, add the oil and heat over medium heat, pour the onion and sauté them for 5 minutes until translucent and softened.
- Add the red pepper flakes, red pepper, oregano, kale, garlic, and salt. Saute for 6 minutes or until the kale wilts.
- Pour the tomato paste , mix and heat for 3 minutes while stirring.
- Add the orzo, chicken, canned tomatoes, and broth, while you cook at medium heat.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the orzo softens and absorbs the broth.
- After baking, take the baking pan out from the oven and cover it with foil. Let it rest for 5 minutes in case the orzo is still hard in the center.
- To give it the final touch, add the butter and stir. Pour feta cheese on top along with the lemon juice and sprinkle some black pepper and dill. You can substitute the pepper for the freshly chopped parsley. Serve.
- If you want your Greek baked orzo with melted feta cheese, you can add shredded feta cheese into the pan, put it back in the oven and bake for 5 more minutes.
- When using an iron skillet, the orzo may stick to the bottom. In this case, you can use a wooden spatula or ladle and scrape the bottom before finishing baking.